Friday, May 29, 2015

History's first ever antibiotics injections were expected to be of pure synthetic penicillin

Back at the start of the 1940s, two highly skilled biochemists (Karl Meyer and Ernst Chain) both confidently expected to quickly synthesize artificial penicillin, as they knew natural penicillin was a relatively small biological molecule of only about 350 Daltons.

After 100 weeks of hearing this reoccurring promise of quick results from Chain, his imperious boss, Howard Florey, reluctantly decided to inject his first human patients in February 12th 1941 with still-impure natural penicillin.

Henry Dawson, normally the most diffident of men, changed his mind about waiting till  co-worker Meyer's synthetic penicillin arrived in January 1941, and after only five weeks into their joint penicillin efforts and without so much as a backward glance, injected his first patients with impure natural penicillin on October 16th 1940.

Why did Dawson uncharacteristically proceed to Plan B so very much quicker than Florey?

Partially it was because Dawson was so angry on his return to his medicine school from his vacation in September 1940 to discover that all American medicine was using the excuse of preparing for war medicine to drop their feeble efforts at social medicine aimed at improving the health care of the poor and the weak.

But it also seems from Dawson's own words that it was a civil rights activist and dying SBE patient, Aaron Leroy Alston from Harlem, whose angry eloquence on this neglect of the poor and minorities that so moved Dawson.

Moved him to defiantly thumb his nose at an uncharitable world by deliberately treating two 4F SBE patients with this historical first ever injected antibiotics, on the very day when all of the rest of America was focused only upon its 1A population ...

WWII's clash of arms ended in 1945 but clash of its ideals continues

In September 1939, Britain (and France) did reluctantly go to war against Germany when it invaded Poland --- but hardly to protect this smaller, weaker nation from being being swallowed up by a bigger neighbour.

They basically sat on their hands while Germany, Slovakia and Russia invaded it and then divided it up.

Right to the end of the war and beyond, Britain (and now America) secretly horse-traded away the freedom of small nations; yes including the soon to be liberated Poland.
Traded then away without ever consulting their governments, let alone their populations.

The spirit of charity to weaker strangers (regardless of their economic or political value to the charity-giver) certainly did not animate any government during WWII.

The clash of arms of WWII did indeed happen between nations and as such, has been examined past the point of exhaustion by too many authors.

Examined but without however providing an unifying explanation to account for WWII's global indifference towards the lives of weaker strangers displayed by all three sides - Axis, Allies and Neutrals.

So to examine WWII's clash of ideals (because this disregard for the lives of weaker strangers was never universal at the individual level) we need to look well before and after 1945 and get down to the level of individuals .

Down right to the micro level , to examine over time the changing and differing opinions within families and between spouses.

For why was it so that a majority in every nation on earth in those years was so self confident that their indifference to the fate of weak strangers was scientifically (and hence morally) justified ?

I think we need to seek the origins for the universally brutal nature of WWII in the 1920s' changing attitudes towards the idea of charity, as displayed first at the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and hundreds of former 'charity' hospitals like it all over the world.

It has long been noted (and then ignored) that during the Era of Modernity the leading explanations for how reality worked were biological and even medical --- rather than theological, philosophical or based upon the hard sciences of physics and chemistry.

Social Darwinism is thus mis-named : it really is Medical Darwinism.

For it was the medical examinations conducted during national universal conscription selection processes that provided the data for so many peacetime, non-military, social decisions.

So medicine did not sit on the sidelines on WWII , merely patching up the wounded ---- then current medical value systems began WWII's clash of ideals and only a change in today's medical value systems can finally end it.....

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

E M Forster on Merck's mis-use of scientific writing

E M Forster is a name you pretty well have to come across  if you have ever been formally taught how to write better sentences, paragraphs and articles ---- and today that includes virtually all of us with a high school education or better.

Even senior scientists and academics. When those two deliberately ignore what they've been taught for decades, you should always expect foul play is afoot.

If we recall Forster at all,  is is mostly because in his classic 1927 university don-oriented work, Aspects of the Novel, Forster gave such a simple but apt example of the difference between most students' initial writings and how they really should write that writing teachers everywhere seized upon it and most of us writing students can still recognize his phrases decades later.

"The Queen dies and the King dies" is not even good enough to be called a story, Forster points out --- it is simply misleading, because in point of fact, the King died first.

Give it an "F" for failure.

In the correct chronological order, "the King dies and then the Queen dies", is at least what we might call a story.

Give it a passing "C".

But if we write "the King dies and then the Queen dies of grief ", we have a full blown plot.

Give it at least a "B-".

Or to use a phrase that even scientists might recognize - now we have determinacy - cause and effect.

Every time I try to read the text of a 1980 scientific article called  "Wartime Industrial Development of Penicillin in the United States" while also trying to connect that text to the chronology of the footnotes below, I get a massively painful headache.

Because all I get is a huge jumble of unconnected facts presented out of correct chronological order- just one dam thing after another.

If I was a writing teacher, I would be forced give scientists cum academics WH Helfand, HB Woodruff, KMH Coleman and DL Cowan a big fat collective "F".

That's a pity, because this is a truly invaluable article, just full of earnestly documented dates,places, people and events from the early days of the American development of wartime penicillin - stuff  that one can't find gathered together anywhere else.

But the exciting and conflict-filled cause and effect of the actual wartime penicillin 'plot', apparent if the fulsome footnotes are separated and re-assembled in their correct chronology , is totally obscured in this peer-reviewed scientific article's text.

I am left feeling that this was quite deliberate : 75 years later, we still can't admit that wartime penicillin wasn't all 'hands across the water' lovey-dovey allies working in full cooperation.

In this case, the article was also designed to better conceal Merck science advisor A N Richards' curt decision to abandon Merck's pioneering natural penicillin efforts and then to gild Richard's later career as the head of America's wartime medical science efforts, when he supposedly championed natural penicillin to the hilt.

In fact, Richards and Merck-the-company were always chemistry obsessed and always chasing the profitable, exclusive patents that come from the manmade chemical synthesis of natural products.

So in reality, they left effective, available natural penicillin to fallow - at the height of wartime's millions of dying and wounded - to chase the profitable mirage of synthetic penicillin.

They never got commercial synthetic penicillin - 75 years later no one else ever has either - and a much smaller and much less respected company called Pfizer made almost all of WWII's penicillin by natural means.

Pfizer got all the money and all the glory and Merck has been smarting ever since and is still ever intent to re-write penicillin history to minimize their errors and gild their few successes.

This parson's egg of an article is just part of that eternal effort ....

Monday, May 25, 2015

In an era that worshipped the Big, the Fast and the New, he championed the small, the slow and the old - and changed our whole world not just once but twice

The small and the slow and the old

A Canadian newspaper recently touted some Canadian based scientists as saying that the new techniques allowing the mass sequencing of genomes in test tubes, from DNA gathered up from all over the world, is letting science reveal hidden secrets from the distant past.

Hurray for Man !

Not mentioned is the fact that it is actually bacteria and their enzymes that do all the heavy lifting or that it was a Canadian (Martin Henry Dawson) who first put bacteria and DNA to work in a test tube eighty five long, dusty years ago.


But bacteria slicing and dicing didn't really become popular until sixty years after it first was discovered in the early 1920s.

Instead all interwar genetic efforts (dominated by the big animal oriented zoologists) were focused at the other end of the ladder of progress - on larger beings.

Now we must partially thank the two men usually 'credited' for the discovery and development of bacteria genome splicing for creating this disconnect : because in truth Fred Griffith and Oswald Avery tried very very hard not to publish their results or those of their associates !

But blame the pair only partially.

Because Dawson did publish and broadcast about the importance for all biology of this bacteria gene splicing for the rest of his short life.

 And doing so basically ruined his career.

For daring, in an era devoted to the Big, Fast, and the New, to proclaim to anyone who would listen and to most that would not, that the small, slow and old could do things (genome splicing) that the most advanced human civilizations could not.

And that is precisely what between-the-wars western civilization did not want to hear.


And when in 1940-1944, Dawson said that the small and the slow and the old (penicillium cells) could make life-saving penicillin cheaply and abundantly when the assembled Smartest-Chemists-in-the-Universe couldn't even make it at all, again Science did not want to hear it.

But to this very day, penicillium cells still make all the basic penicillin that forms the base material for virtually all our life-saving antibiotics.

Microbiology technology is the current flavour of the age, with synthetic chemistry very much bringing up the rear.

No scientific discovery will ever go 'unpublished' in the technical sense of the word, if the discoverer wants it published.

But what makes an important new discovery or theory quickly popular ( popular in the sense it is taught in all the major science textbooks from high school to advanced study) is how well it gels with the spirit of the age.

Only in our post modern age, when the idea of a linear ladder of progress  with its easy to pick winners and losers has been firmly rejected by most of the educated public , was it possible for Dawson's scientific claims to win wide scientific acceptance ..

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

the WHY of eugenics : enough with the 'what' already

Scientific discoveries can happen anytime anywhere and be announced  (be made public) anytime anywhere.

But scientific discoveries are only in turn "discovered" by the most powerful scientific, political, economic, media elites (ie made popular) when it suits the spirit of their particular place and time.

So we have Eugenics (controlling the gene pool) - universally popular in 1928 and universally denigrated in 1998 --- while the anti-eugentics of uncontrollable HGT (horizontal gene transfer) was universally ignored in 1928 and universally supported in 1998.

Eugenics did not emerge into the popular domain simply because Galton announced it, but only when the elites of his time and place took it up with enthusiasm instead of ignoring it - as they later did HGT.

Galton's scientific discovery soothed their deepest emotional fear about all the intermingling thrown up by the same Modernization processes they were leading (and cheering on).

But the later scientific discovery of HGT ( promoted most ardently by Martin Henry Dawson) only fuelled that deep fear and revulsion.

For Modernity/Eugenics ( the two basically mean the same thing) was the shiny public - daytime - face of their deepest darkest nighttime fears.

It was their way of trying to control the processes they had unwittingly unleashed --- their attempt to put the modernization genie back in the bottle while still enjoying all the fruits of its successes.

If I were as scared and revulsed by the loss of hegemonic control as these elites were, I'd ignore HGT too....

Monday, May 18, 2015

Plenticidal Revulsion (reductionism, reactionism) must always be simple - "terribly simple" - because Reality never is

The reaction thrown up by Plenticidal Revulsion (Lovecraftian Revulsion being the best known literary representation) must always and only seeks to see in its place a single, simple, pure vertical hierarchy and hegemony.

All others at the bottom, me at the top.

For the very idea that a plentitude of hegemonies and hierarchies can even exist along different planes of reality is what the revulser fears the most - not the competing ideas contained within those various hegemonies.

For "simple" and "single" (and "pure") are but different ways of saying the same thing, just as "complex" and "mixed " basically say the same thing.

The forcing all of reality into their 'terribly simple' procrustean bed by those most revulsed by the new plentitude accounts for virtually all the horrors done in the era of Plenticide (1870s-1960s).

And until late in 1942, Leni Reifenstahl's "Triumph of the Terribly Simple" seemed to lie within the revulsers' grasp....

Sunday, May 17, 2015

'Progress' is always simple looking at the top, complicated at the bottom

When you are a 'big person', residing at the top of the human food chain, totally engaged in the concept of an ever upward Progress, you tend never to look down at the complexity of Life below your feet.

Partially it is your class and ethnic snobbery about all the 'lesser breeds', partly its a popular scientific construction that the smaller and the older simply must be 'less progressive' and hence just ancient history.

None of this is possible when you are a 'small person' , at the bottom of the human food chain, also eternally looking upwards.

Looking upwards isn't a luxury for the small and the weak - they need to see all the warning signs of potentially trouble from their bosses ('betters') as soon as possible, if they are to survive.

And when you are on the bottom, everybody else is your boss and your 'better' --- you can't help but appreciate just how varied and complex the human world actually is.

If Henry Dawson saw the world different than his contemporaries , as vastly more complicated than they saw it, perhaps he had cause ...

Revulsion + Reductionism = Plenticide

Plenticide (eugenics, genocide, pesticides) : human civilization of the Modern era seems determined to get rid of all of its nearest and dearest , leaving just a tiny 'saving seed' of the most perfect and the purest of humanity to exist all alone in this vast lifeless Universe.

It just didn't make sense : for the more evidence that emerged that the universe was old, vast and empty the harder humanity, circa 1930, tried to eliminate most of what little life was confirmed to exist in the universe : that of Earth itself.

Perhaps, you might argue, they hoped to find lots of new companions from among the little green people kitted out in metallic scales and bearing two heads that would surely be found on places like Mars.

But does that wash ?

In a culture consumed with fears that "black" men, black because one drop of black blood was enough to define them as negro and not because they looked in anyway black, might marry their daughters and then perform unspeakable crimes of miscegenation ?

Could a species that regarded it as a serious crime for its members to marry other members of that same species if they looked at all different (the felony of miscegenation) and trying to kill off all other of the familiar lifeforms on planet Earth, ever find something in common with the unfamiliar lifeforms from planets with physical conditions so different from that of Earth ?

Not the ray guns would be blasting all those seductive little green women to death faster than you can say Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon.

Flash Gordon, a Yale educated WASP, didn't even truck with consorting with alien women from this planet (ie recent Catholic or Jewish immigrants to America) - so why expect him to indulge in miscegenation with aliens from other planets ?

No we can only account for this new emphasis on plenticide in the modern era by seeing it as the result of two simultaneous reactions combining.

One was a near universal 'revulsion inwards' reaction among educated humanity to science's 'natural history' revelations that the totality of reality and lifeforms was far far greater than ever imagined and far far more entangled together in complicated ways.

A revulsion against miscegenation in every sphere and in every dimension.

Living and marrying only within one's ethnicity and class seemed far more simple and predictable.

But this inwardness and sense of go-it-alone autarky seemed only realistically possible because other branches of science were, at the same time, claiming that below the surface complexity of reality, it was actually extremely simple and predictable and even controllable.

Scientific reductionism promised that all that now existed or could ever exist, Man could easily synthesize from the atoms of useless rocks, with the limitless energy of the splitting atom.

Not only did WASP males of circa 1930 now feel revulsed at the thought of having sex with their black female slaves, they also no longer needed the strong backs of black male slaves either, as machines had replaced them.

Neither was wanted or needed on this pure voyage into the progressive future.

Hence :  Revulsion + Reductionism = Plenticide.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Fred & Henry Dawson spanned Modernity's biggest to the smallest

After 1930, Frederick James (Fred J) Dawson was the eldest (in the talk of children : "the biggest") of the surviving Dawson children and and Martin Henry (Henry) Dawson the youngest ("the smallest").

Appropriate then that engineer and heavy construction magnate Fred built some of the biggest things on Earth that had ever been made by living beings.

In the very demanding geography of rugged British Columbia he successfully built gigantic bridges, long highways and tunnels, military airports, large hospitals and deep water piers --- even helped build entire frontier towns like Kitimat.

In the 'bigger, faster, higher is always better' culture of Modernity, he clearly was one of the heroes of the most complex and advanced forms of civilized progress.

And appropriate too that Henry was a microbiologist, a scientist who specialized in studying lifeforms far too small to see with the naked eye.

Invisibly small and helplessly immobile sacks of liquid, ancient beyond time, Henry's microbes seemed almost too simple and too weak to even foot the bottom left hand corner of "The Arrow of Progress" that brother Fred's construction feats topped in the upper right hand corner.

But little brother Henry saw them as capable of creating incredibly complex structures, far more complex than any others had imagined possible.

Even more complex, in some ways, than the very big but comparatively straight forward structures that his big brother built.

And while brother Fred constructed enormous institutions to house the chronically ill (such as Vancouver's East Lawn Riverview) Henry beavered away inside similar chronic hospitals , trying to help the weakest and smallest in society because he felt his society was too quick to write them off.

Perhaps, like me, you are beginning to see a suggestive pattern in all this...

LIFE is rarest thing in Universe, not some obscure precious metal

So why was Thirties humanity so eager to destroy 99.99% of it, in an act of collective plenticide that would have dwarfed the Nazi genocide of Jews and Romas ?

For in virtually all the illustrated fantasies about future life spawned by a raft of interwar era popular science magazines, humanity is seen as living inside an man-made plastic bubble on stark rock planets.

Inside the bubble, we humans are using some futuristic form of atomic energy to turn the bare rock into synthetic versions of all the things humans need to survive.

LIFE (other life anyway) was clearly 'not wanted on this future voyage'.

Today's children might innocently think 1930s humanity would instead cherish every last example of LIFE, from invisible bacteria to blue whale, if only as companions to share humans' otherwise incredibly lonely existence on a vast totally empty and hostile Universe.

But instead educated humanity during the Great Depression sought, via Eugenics, to eliminate every example of humanity that didn't fit their concepts of perfection and normality.

And the educated's casual acceptance of over-fishing and over-hunting, combined with scientific humanity's enormous research into various lethal forms of pesticides, suggested that the 1930s thought they could get along, quite nicely thank you, without other lifeforms competing for Earth's supposedly limited non-biological resources.

But LIFE is actually far more unstable than even the most unstable metallic element.

And no, lifeforms can't really survive by taking in each other's laundry.

Lifeforms can only flourish and reproduce by recycling each other's poop, because LIFE actually makes use of very little of the rock that makes up almost all of this planet.

Instead, we earthlings live out our entire lives on the Earth's surface , surviving off of and in the debris LIFE itself has created over four billion years.

We living beings ceaselessly recycle each other's waste products or decaying dead bodies, constantly re-creating the humus of LIFE.

Remember, all the oxygen we humans need to survive is just a waste product to the plants and microbes that need to throw it off if they too are to survive.

Meanwhile many of the microbes, in turn, only survive by consuming the dead bodies of other life - humans among that number.

LIFE only comes as one complete - indivisible - package and this package currently seems to be unique to this single tiny little planet in all the vast Universe.

So, no The Sixth Extinction and Plenticide isn't murder : its murder-suicide ....

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Age of Antibiotics' Patients Zero : Aaron Alston of St Nicholas Ave, Harlem and Charles Aronson of Vyse Ave, the Bronx

Thanks to the hard work of two relatives of these penicillin pioneers (Claude Jay for Aaron and Lisa Liel for Charles), these forgotten individuals can emerge from the shadows almost fully formed.

We don't know everything about them (we never do about anybody) but we sure know far more about them than we learned from the scanty evidence published up to now.

They were poor, came from unpopular minorities (one black, the other Jewish) and had a disease (SBE) then considered incurable and so they (and thousands like them) were written off by the Allied medical establishment as 'lives unworthy of wasting a lot of medical attention upon during a total war'.

A sentiment that was cheered upon by their counterparts in Germany, Russia and Japan during the same war - and for the same 'eugenic' reasons.

But one individual, Dr Martin Henry Dawson, gave up his own life to fight to keep them and people like them alive.

What good a military victory over Nazi medicine if the Nazi doctors won the moral war when the Allies agreed upon 'discarding the unfit in times of war and stress' ?

Aaron, the super athlete, might have been expected to do better fighting off his disease than the always sickly Charles but in fact he died in January 1941, just as Charles went home cured of his first bout of SBE ---thanks in part to his pioneering penicillin shots.

He had three more years of normal existence granted to him but got a second bout of SBE, which again he and penicillin beat.

But he also survived a severe stroke during the process which left him speechless and paralyzed .

Dawson's JAMA article of 1945 records "CA" as being transferred to an institution for chronic care on August 15 1944.

Since Dawson held a key post at Goldwater hospital, I had always guessed that is where Charles was sent.

Lisa send me Charles's 1951 death certificate which records that her relative went to Goldwater hospital on that exact same date and died there 7 years and a few months later.

Not the ending I - Charles - or anyone  - might have wished for ....

A Complicated Triumph

The terrible simplicities of scientific reductionism was the very mother's milk of  all the horrible 'terrible simplifiers' of High Modernity (1875-1965): starting with Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and crossing the water to their gentler and kinder Anglo-American opponents.

For none of the big political ideologies of Modernity at all rejected reductionist science or damned it with faint praise - instead they clasped it to their bosom and then claimed it formed the spiritual foundations of their peculiar faith.

One Manhattan Project - the nuclear one - was very much of this ilk --- barefacedly claiming we'd soon see atomic electricity too cheap to meter and atomic planes and cars filling our skies and streets.

We're still waiting, because all three claims were based on a Big Lie (or two or three) and deep down these nuclear complexity over-simplifiers knew it .

WWII's Terrible Simplifiers rebuked by the Terrible Complicatedness of Reality

By contrast, the other Manhattan Project - the one based on natural penicillin for the wartime all - rejected the scientific simplicity that spoke of a single trajectory of life.

A simple single inclined pole of progress, with the smallest and oldest at the bottom left always the stupidest while the newest and the biggest life forms -  scientists from the biggest civilizations - invariably the smartest at the top right.

Instead Dr Martin Henry Dawson and his team suggested, that depending on the capability being measured, all life forms variously fell at the top, bottom and middle of literally hundreds of scales.

Theories of simplicity had to give way - once again - to the strong evidence of the sheer confounded complicatedness of reality.

So - and unexpectedly - when it came to making pure, cheap, abundant penicillin, the tiny slime fungi did a far better job than assembled thousands of the world's best synthetic chemists.

And if the microbial smallest and weakest showed such unexpected abilities, Dawson argued maybe, too, the smallest and weakest among humanity were also smarter and stronger than the best educated and healthiest of humanity - at least on some unexpected measures.

And so modernity shouldn't be so quick to write off either the fungal slime or the wartime 4Fs.

In a surprise reversal, one branch of the highly competitive Washington DC wartime bureaucracy (the New Dealish WPB) bought Dawson's arguments and bested another branch in Washington (the Republican-dominated OSRD/NAS) who fiercely opposed giving any wartime penicillin to the 'unfit' of the world.

And like Washington, neither the Axis or Allied worlds were in fact as single-minded as wartime Home Front bompf and piddle would have you believe.

And as a result, any accurate account of almost any WWII event need be a very complicated one.

So the tale of the unexpected wartime triumph of natural penicillin-for-all is a complicated one - with many an unexpected twist and turn.

But then so is Reality itself - reductionist claims to the contrary...

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Modernity as the outward expression of the conservative brain

Partly due to genetics and partly due to their parents child rearing style and partly due to external circumstances, some children grow up to be a little or a great deal fearful of the outer world and other people -- that is, they grow up to be conservative.

Anyone who grew up in a family of several children born in close sequence knows that while these kids share a common/parental rearing style and a common set of external circumstances, the kids all rate as quite different on the conservative fearful/liberal trusting scale.

the mix of genes that conception genetics endows you and gestation genetic expression that the external environment gives each growing feutus makes each of us unique not a clone of good old dad or of our big brothers and sisters.

The plentitude of new plentitudes of new objects, ideas and experiences that modernization threw up made made people more than normally fearful - made the counter reaction, Modernity, more than normally strong .

And conservative ....

"A Small Triumph" --- wartime's natural penicillin-for-all a triumph FOR the small, BY the small

During the Error-of-Modernity (circa about 1875-1965), most educated humans sincerely believed that "Evolutionary Progress" had only one possible pole of measurement : basically, it boiled down to the number of peer-reviewed scientific articles published annually.

Naturally that meant that the oldest, smallest and least apparently complicated beings, like the microbes, were at the very bottom left of this "45 degrees to the right" Pole of Progress.

It was the era of 'Might is Right', 'Biggest is Best' and 'God and Evolution is on the side of the Biggest Battalions'.

And so at the top right were the newest, biggest and most complex human civilizations like those of the Germans, British, Americans, Russians, French and Japanese.

As a Law Of Nature and as a Fact Of Biology, this was a doozy.

Even Darwin had tended to restrict evolutionary success to reproductive success, rather than to a nation's citation index in the journal Nature.

Darwin's measure needs a bit of further defining.

After all, it would seem that the ultimate in evolutionary success is best measured by finding the beings with the most offspring that survive, in the most habitats and for the longest period of time.

In which case, Biology borrows from the Bible to proclaim that the Last indeed are First, as by this definition the microbes sweep all before them in an Alberta Orange-Crush-like manner.

But still, why judge Evolutionary Progress by only one pole anyway, particularly when only one group gets to pick the pole and does so in a manner to suit their particular talents and hide their many biological weaknesses ?

One particular measure that then force all other biological talents to be judged defectives and so worthy of being eliminated ?

In a multi-poled world of Evolutionary Progress, one can imagine hundreds of different poles.

Some assessing all life on its ability to swim faster or fly longer.

Or on its ability to burrow quicker or live under great pressures or flourish in acidic conditions or reproduce under conditions of great cold, heat or drought.

On and on and on.

In this multi-pole world, sometimes the First (biggest,strongest, most seemingly most complex) would indeed be first, but sometimes they might finish in the middle or even foot the tail of the race.

And the Last (the smallest and weakest, seeming the simplest) might finish in the middle or even first.

It would  all depend.

Dr Martin Henry Dawson, building upon his school day phenology studies that revealed the infinite variety of life, found that the supposedly stupid simple bacteria actually bested the smartest human scientists in the universe in an interwar period area of hot scientific interest --- directed genetics.

His 1920s-1930s pioneering studies of what was then called bacterial variation - HGT, quorum sensing, molecular mimicking, biofilms - had already suggested to him that the small and the weak weren't as useless or as uncomplicated as then generally viewed.

In 1940, this led him to two then highly controversial conclusions : that the human small and the weak weren't as useless as both the Allies and the Axis blandly assumed AND that the small and weak fungus currently producing all the world's penicillin might actually do a better job at it than all the smartest human chemists in the universe.

Against his own dying body and the Allies' fiercely resisting medical establishment, he held on long enough to see naturally penicillin succeed when human synthetic penicillin efforts failed AND to see the medical establishment reluctantly bow to public pressure and make wartime penicillin available to all, on all sides, whose lives would be saved by it.

A small triumph maybe - unless it was your kid or spouse that was saved - but also a triumph for the small , by the small ...

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Why conservatives hate slime-made antibiotics

People whose personalities are fearful, distrusting and easily disgusted (and who thus tend to think, act and vote conservatively), held up the development of naturally-made penicillin for fifteen - wasted - years between 1928 and 1943.

Chief among them : Sir Alexander Fleming and Sir Howard Florey, both who thought the stuff was best left on the shelf, until it was 100% man-made artificial.

(It never was ---- and still isn't ----- . Almost all of our antibiotics still start off as naturally grown penicillin.)

Call it the H P Lovecraft Syndrome.

Author Lovecraft was famously reactionary and racist but above all he was almost pathologically disturbed by the sight of, or thought of slime.

Slime is neither liquid or solid and as this ambiguity of being is literally made physical in its distinctive slipperiness of texture, it powerfully evokes feelings of disgust and dread in the conservative mind.

One is not surprised to learn that four times as many Republican homes have mud rooms as do Democrats, all to help out keep Mary Douglas's infamous 'matter out of place' from invading the family sanctuary.

Or that twice as many Republican couples feel the need for separate his and her sinks in their bathrooms so neither spouse has to touch the dirt of the other.

(How conservatives can even bear (bare?) to exchange intimate body slime in the act of sex, one does not know.)

It simply wasn't on to inject the poop of slime molds into the sanctity of the human bloodstream.

Because remember this was an era (error ?) that fantasized that the essence of humanity was found in the blood itself.

Not until a more relaxed and liberal individual (Dr Martin Henry Dawson) came along was impure, crude penicillin finally injected for the first time: into himself and then into two of his patients....

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Pushing & Pulling Modernity's Terrible Simplifiers

In the 1880s, the competing successes of both branches of science --- the real world oriented applied and natural history folks and the lab-bound experimental theory-oriented natural philosophy folks - gave Modernity a doubly fierce intensity of purpose.

Fear complemented Hubris inside their minds.

Applied science and technology had produced the better microscopes and telescopes that forced humanity to see the very small and the very big worlds co-existing with the long familiar medium sized human world.

The age of the beginnings of Life, of the Earth and of the Universe were pushed back into unbelievably distant times.

The scale of Universe was revealed to be as big as the scale of the world of microbes, atoms and molecules was revealed to be small.

Modern steamships and trains and electric telegraphs allowed explorers to more easily visit distant cultures ( distant in remote place or distant back in time) and spread that news worldwide instantly.

Now incredibly more cultures, languages, religions, ideas, foods were shown to exist than were imagined just a few years earlier.

That matched the new vast numbers of animal, plant and microbial species being added years to the relatively static total known a few decades earlier.

This plentitude of plentitudes overwhelmed everybody, none more than the elites who has secured their position at the top of each society's foodchain by creating a hegemony of thought.

Even new foods and new musics, let alone new immigrants or new scientific ideas, presented alternative to that hegemony.

Much worse, the mere idea that alternative visions existed, undercut decisively the claim that any one hegemony could be truly hegemonic.

Fortunately, at the very same time, lab scientists were convincing themselves that all the newly apparent surface variety of reality could be reduced to the simple motions of a few fundamental elemental atoms.

And that man could easily rearrange the abundant - boring - atoms of rock, air and water into anything man could imagine as well as thinks as yet undreamed up.

Reductionism would plenticide all the newly discovered plentitude and restore a simple static vertically oriented heirarchy to the elites' unsettled societies....

Non-Aryans under Modernity : from ally to enemy to input

One can't imagine youthful (second generation) Nazi scientists being content with merely removing the hair, teeth and skin from all the world's 'unfit', before burning their bodies for fuel, in the manner it was done way back in papa's day.

Instead these 'impure' bodies would be burned in high tech, high temperature atomic refineries.

There second generation Nazi physicists would ensure that these 'unfit' bodies would be reduced down (again that quintessential Modernity concept) to pure simple atoms.

Then each element's atoms would be collected separately, using the same technique that separated and gathered the fissionable uranium for the Bomb.

These pure atoms could then be be reassembled by second generation Nazi chemists into any synthetic material their blond beastly minds could imagine : artificial foodstuffs, in the form of 'Fuhrer Burgers', even.

What the Nazis and their kin would be so willing to do with all the humans that failed 'out of the medals' in The Race of Progress, other youthful modern elites would be even more eager to do to Nature.

For let us look at the visual material that helped formed the intellectual world of these second generation modernity elites : the futuristic illustrations from all the world's Science fiction magazines and Popular Science non-fiction magazines.

Near universally they display future human existence as consisting of living under vast glass domes on barren planets devoid of anything green or of any animal and insect.

(And certainly no microbes either).

No shade trees because shade is now better provided for by artificial means. And besides shade trees were potential enemies competing for the valuable trace elements in the rocky soil of this planet that are better converted into the substances that humans really want.

So any new planet invaded by Aryan Man would be quickly stripped of anything biological that might form a threat or be a competitor for the planet's valuable minerals and energy sources.

Modernity's Aryan Man is just so smart, the Future's gotta get out of his way or at least hide in the shadows and wear Shades.

No need anymore for humanity (what's left of it, after the Great Winnowing of the unfit) to modestly live commensal-style within Nature.

No need to supplicant oneself and gracefully accept good ideas coming from anywhere and everywhere, be it Jewish science, Roma music or microbial antibiotics.

For Hubris and Scientism be the only gods now ...

Saturday, May 2, 2015

DNA, Penicillin & Phenology : what great works A H MacKay hath wroth

Pioneering DNA and Penicillin scientist Dr Martin Henry Dawson (1896-1945) was undoubtably Nova Scotia Superintendent of Education A H Mackay's most illustrious student.

Dawson's pioneering investigating of the hidden complexities of microbial life (HGT, quorum sensing, molecular mimicry, biofilms, natural penicillin) flew in the face of all the 'modern' wisdom of the scientists and educated public of his day.

But in the end, it paved the way for our current post modern ways of wisdom.

Dawson grew up right across the street from the Hub of Nova Scotia's public education system in downtown Truro and with his mother a teacher and his father on the school board, he could not help but do well in school, regardless of the level of his genetically given intelligence resources.

At at time (High Modernity), when all the high schools of the world were leaders among Jacob Burkhardt's "terrible simplifers", reducing all the newly uncovered complexities of reality back into a few simple Laws of Nature, Superintendent MacKay dared bucked this educational and societal trend.

Instead MacKay saw to it that all of the province's schools allowed their students to see for themselves just how complicated and varied the world really was.

He himself was a noted natural historian, publishing articles in scientific journals , despite natural history being dismissed as fit only for an an amateur hobby for under occupied rural parsons.

So he boldly supplemented the worldwide trend to spend most of the spare school tax money on equipping all high schools with shiny new white indoor laboratories.

(Dawson's own High School, being the Model High School for an entire, albeit a small and relatively poor, province, had far better - newer - scientific equipment than most of Canada and America's universities provided to their undergraduates.)

MacKay commanded that all children and teachers throughout the province had to collect datum on the timing of the seasons' naturally cyclical events, as noted on their to and from walks to school each day.

He made all these little ankle biters junior participants in the grown up science of phenology.

This science studies the interaction between a basically fixed genetic timetable for Nature to do things versus the interaction with an ever varying climate as well as other such variables such as elevation, shade and wind cover.

MacKay's very impressive data set, from almost thirty years of recording, collected by upwards of a hundred thousand students each year, is still being used to help us gauge the change in the climate over the last hundred or so years.

But that is at the macro level.

At the classroom level, down at the micro level of timing when each returning bird and plant was first seen by each school kid in the Spring, what the kids collectively saw was a constant complex variety of possibilities of timings and locations.

The program basically ran from the year of Dawson's birth (1896)to the year (1926) that he permanently departed the province for New York City and began his pioneering research at Rockefeller and Columbia Universities.

He had bathed in this natural Historical way of seeing the contingencies of reality for thirty years and when he grew up, he became a clinical investigator - constantly balancing the simplicities of artificial lab experiments against the unpredictable complexities of actual real life human patients.

At those universities,not unexpectedly, Dawson's research results revealing the overwhelming complexity of reality rather than demonstrating its supposed ability to all be reduced to a few simple laws governing the motion of atoms, were wildly unfashionable.

But today they all just seem perfectly normal.

I can't help thinking that old L.H. would be grinning from ear to ear if he woke from the dead and was suddenly dropped into any current biology conference .

'Believed at last, believed at last, Great God Almighty, believed at last' !!!!

Friday, May 1, 2015

in the Fifties my key influence was always TV - in the Sixties it was never TV

My partner Rebecca and I always get into disputes about me letting her son's daughter Sam watch so much videos on the computer : Peppa Pig, Little Bear, Arthur and Franklin and the like.

I myself loathe TV, rarely watch movies (but do enjoy detective mystery series from TV, as long as they are not thrillers).

I like popular music (though don't listen to it on the radio as much as when I was younger), never read fiction (though I liked it plenty until I left high school) but above all, am a total non fiction bookworm.

I read books, magazines, newspapers and increasingly, on the computer.

Rebecca is the one who watches TV or listens to CBC radio - not me --- I am the much bigger reader.

So you'd think I'd be the one to restrain Sam's TV time, but that's not so.

Because when I was small, before I could read (and even after I could read) I didn't really read much - more enjoyed simply staring at photos or illustrations and then trying to understand the short descriptive cutlines or captions below them.

Instead (from age six till I turned ten) I much preferred to play and talk with a big bunch of other kids, watch grownup movies or TV shows with my parents on the family TV or gaze out the car window soaking it all in, when our family went for long drives.

On the TV, war movies, murder mysteries, a few TV situation comedies, TV docudramas and Fifties Sci Fi movies made the biggest impression on me.

But in September 1961, that all abruptly ended - I wasn't allowed to leave our new rural home to visit other kids, there was no TV and no money to go to city movie houses or have a daily newspaper.

Print had to take up the slack and with two weeks I found I could read adult level books and magazines as fast and as easily as any adult who was a good reader.

But back in the Fifties, as a little kid, I could either not read at all, or so poorly, that I couldn't possibly hope to learn about worlds beyond my own through my print-understanding abilities.

But even as a small kid, I learned a lot about the adult world through observing the sounds, dialogue and actions of films and TV shows --- and matured in doing so.

Because even at age seven I thought A Walk In The Sun was a war movie well above the rest I had seen and I had already seen plenty by then.

Professional adult film critics (then and now) thoroughly agree with my childhood assessment.

I only wish my mother had stuck two year old me in front of a TV sometimes, instead of always outside, behind a wire fence enclosure ,to stare all day, every day, at the few cars that went past our home just beyond Dartmouth's 1954 town limits.

I was bored out of my skull - could have used some brain stimulation.

I was conceived in 1950 and was eight and a half in 1960, so I recall nothing of that decade from the simple-minded Dick and Jane books we had to read in school.

But the TV I watched at home was fully adult and its lessons taught me how to understand the adult 1950s world I saw outside my home.

As a result, I 'get' the 1950s, I really do --- and while I have much studied the 1940s, I don't get them at all.

Sam is a very smart two year old and she has no trouble separating the good children's shows from the bad children's shows - and she can tell me the plots and characters better than I can - and I watch them with her.

TV expands her mind as much as playtime and kids books do, I can see it do so in her.

And that it matches my memories of just what I can recall from a 1950s childhood - and it wasn't anything we were taught in school .

(Besides the exploding of Ripple Rock and the death of Pope Pius - interestingly, two external adult happenings brought into our simple classroom days by our teachers.)

So, no I never heard of 1957's Strontium 90 till 1962 but I saw its indirect effect on the world in all those junky Sci Fi films I saw back in the 1950s.

So let Sam watch TV and videos, I say - it'll expand her brain, not rot it ...

Greening the Red,White and Blue : corporations, not scientism, the major cause for postwar environmental disasters?

Anyone concerned about our planet - and not just the few of us busy slicing and dicing the past history of environmentalism - should read Thomas Jundt's "Greening of the Red,White and Blue" (Oxford University press, 2014.)

He's done the hard spade work to reveal a hidden 1945-1975 pre-history of environmental activism and corporate environmental greed that existed before environmentalism-the-word went mainstream.

(Because Strontium 90 made environmentalism-the-concern a worldwide activity well before the first ever Earth Day.)

My only comment is that I feel that Jundt lays too much of the blame on corporate short sighted greed and not enough on the still strong naive scientism from the scientists and the general public of the Era of Modernity...

In Wars, as in Nature, coalitions of the last DO defeat the first

In 1939, single solitary tiny little Belgium could never hope to defeat Germany or Russia all on its own, no more than a single solitary tiny strep bacteria could lay a big human being in their grave all by itself.

But the tiny strep live in big colonies and these 'coalitions of the bacterial willing' can have deadly consequences for even the largest and strongest of their opponents.

In 1939, it simply wasn't anything more than eyewash to flatly state (and stupidly, blindly, believe) that the Laws of Nature ordains that the First and the big always best the last and the small -  for in the real world, it all depends.

A resolutely united coalition of smaller European nations ( think of NATO today) could make even the largest aggressor think twice before invading one of its smaller members.

There was no such coalition in 1939 - most people thought Modernity's science proved the collective Last could never beat the biggest First.

By 1949, most people felt much differently.

That was because the course of the war had clearly indicated that "The Grand Coalition" (the English, white Americans, White Russians) had in fact badly needed the support of over a hundred smaller nations, ethnicities and colonies to belatedly win the war.

The Allied coalition had held together because while within it the big still pushed the small around, the big gradually became acutely aware that they needed the support of all the small to survive and then win --- and this restrained their behavior.

By contrast, the Germans ended their war using badly needed troops and material to fight their ex-allies rather than fighting off their original foes.

They fought desperately hard too : trying to re-install a new pro-German government in each of these wandering former allies, because without the land barrier and raw resources of these small allies, Greater Germany itself was quickly doomed.

Whether or not all politics is just applied biology, it helps to survey all of biology and not just the bits that suits your intellectual dogma.

Because Modernity's public science was really less science as we understand it today and more a particularly poetic branch of Rhetoric...